Saturday, March 1, 2014

Use of Technology in the Classroom I: Changing Student and Teacher Roles

by Stan Peerless

The use of technology and online learning in the classroom has serious implications regarding the respective roles of teachers and students in the learning process. In general, the learner plays a much more active role and the teacher plays a less central role. The student is actively making choices about how to generate, obtain, manipulate, or display information. Technology use allows many more students to be actively thinking about information, making choices, and executing skills than is typical in teacher-led lessons. Moreover, when technology is used as a tool to support students in performing authentic tasks, the students are in the position of defining their goals, making design decisions, and evaluating their progress. Thus, in a sense, the teacher changes from a repository of knowledge and becomes more of a facilitator of learning. This does not mean that the teacher no longer teaches, but that teaching is defined less as transmitting knowledge and more as guiding students to discover and process information. Within this framework, some of the primary roles of the teacher are to design appropriate learning activities, create a learning community with a culture of collaboration, and monitor student growth and development. In this series of articles, we will focus on each of these three elements.

Designing Appropriate Learning Activities
In order to engage all of the students in computer-supported collaborative learning, teachers must prepare well structured learning activities that exhibit the following characteristics:

Nature of the Assignments
·      Choose assignment topics or tasks that are related to the real world, and can be connected to students’ lives. One example is for students to analyze and solve a current local or international problem, or issues that they commonly encounter in their own lives. Similarly, lessons that do not inherently relate to the immediate world of the students should be personalized whenever possible.
·      Use open-ended questions: Open-ended questions do not suggest an answer, and cannot generate a short answer response. Rather, they require the student to draw on their knowledge base to evaluate or draw conclusions. As such, open-ended questions should lead students to think analytically and critically.
·      Questions and tasks should be challenging, yet within reach – i.e. within what Vigotsky referred to as the students "zone of proximal development" (activities between what the student can do unaided and what the student cannot do) and what Krashen referred to regarding language acquisition as "i+1" or "level + 1.
·      Diversify Activities – There are a number of ways in which learning activities should be diversified. Firstly, it is important not to get stuck with one collaborative learning mold that is used repeatedly. There are avariety of group learning strategies that might be employed.   In addition, learning activities should be multi-interest based and multi-ability based, reflecting Gardner's multiple-intelligence theory as well as including components that reflect different levels of difficulty.

Structuring of Assignments
Collaboration scripts are the most important design elements in computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) and aim to support learning activities by structuring potentially deficient interactions. Scripts are methods that structure collaborative learning based on the assumption that structured collaboration is more effective than free collaboration. "A script describes the way students have to collaborate: task distribution or roles, turn taking rules, work phases, deliverables, etc. This contract may be conveyed through initial instructions or encompassed in the learning environment." (Dillenbourg and Jermann, 2007). Scripts generally foster interaction by creating "splits" that divide the group with regard to knowledge, roles, skills, or interests, and leads them complete the assigned task with a greater degree of interactivity.

According to For Kollar, Fischer, and Hesse (2006), collaboration scripts consist of at least five components:  learning objectives, type of activities, sequencing, role distribution, and type of representation.

The following are some helpful tips regarding the structuring of computer-supported collaborative assignments:
·      Break a larger assignment into smaller pieces and set multiple deadlines to ensure that students work toward reaching milestones throughout the process rather than pulling it all together at the last minute.
·      Give the students individual roles and responsibilities on a rotating basis. Commonly used roles include: Leader / Facilitator, Recorder, Time Keeper, Learning Material Manager, and Presenter / Reporter.
·      Incorporate peer review at each milestone to encourage self-awareness and to ensure ongoing feedback. Having to listen to, analyze and respond to another's opinion sharpen the student's reasoning powers, imparts precision and clarity into ideas that would otherwise remain vague, and often generates entirely new insights in his understanding of the subject matter.
·      Assignments should require interdependence. Some assignments inherently require interdependence. However, assignments that do not inherently promote interdependence can be presented using techniques that require each student to contribute to the final product, and for students to learn from each other. The jigsaw cooperative learning technique is a classical example. In the jigsaw, each student is assigned to a particular expert group in which the participants master a part of the information needed to complete the assignments. Subsequently, groups consisting of a representative from each expert group are formed, and the students teach each other and complete the assignment together.

Coming up in Part II of this article: Developing Learning Communities 

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